Religious and political freedom transformed Portugal after 1975. But the focus on individualism and material gain, and a rise in substance abuse, all challenge the nation. The Roman Catholic Church still has influence, but it needs renewal. In southern areas, less than 3% attend mass. Pray for the Holy Spirit to work so that many people encounter the Scriptures and the Saviour in a meaningful way.
Evangelical growth remains encouraging but is also hampered by certain challenges:
- Serious divisions. Many denominations suffered acrimonious splits, especially some Pentecostal denominations. Some recent progress has been made to overcome these; pray for churches to major on the core elements of the faith and extend grace in the minor distinctives.
- Church planting. Many more churches are needed. The EA targetted a goal of 4,000 evangelical churches by 2015. Instead, evangelical congregrations actually decreased from 1630 to 964, despite nearly 300 new church plants. Several groups adopted cell-church models but face the difficulty that, for many Portuguese, a physical structure communicates religious legitimacy. Pray for continued church growth, for affordable and appropriate meeting places and for leaders for these future churches.
Many congregations lack full-time workers with adequate theological depth and spiritual maturity; church growth exacerbates this problem. These institutions are therefore highly strategic: Assemblies of God, Portuguese Bible Institute (GEM, ECM), Presbyterian, Baptist and Brazilian-founded Bethel Bible Institutes. TEE programmes and Nucleo, a widely used Bible correspondence course, are also strategic. Pray that these may contribute to meeting the ministry needs of the churches.
There remain pioneer challenges, despite recent church growth. Pray for:
- The seven northern and northeastern provinces, which are strongly traditional Catholic; relatively few evangelical churches exist. Brethren, Baptists, AoG, GEM, TEAM, ECM, Missão Antioquia and several other missions all have church-planting programmes in the area.
- The four provinces in the south that are poorer and much less religious. Attendance at mass is very low, and evangelical churches are few.
- The 316 counties, 44 of which still have no evangelical congregation. This is praiseworthy progress from the 69 in 2000 that lacked a church.
- Madeira Island (270,000), which has fewer than 20 small evangelical churches, and the Azores (250,000), with a further 26, most being Assemblies of God and Baptist.
- Ethnic minorities. Large numbers of immigrants continue to flow into Portugal. The earlier waves of Portuguese-speaking West Africans and Brazilians are joined by Chinese, Macanese and Eastern Europeans - especially Ukrainians, who now comprise Portugal's second-largest community. Many of these are unevangelized but open to the gospel; pray for the churches (both Portuguese and foreign) to gain a vision to reach them.
Young people are often spiritually neglected.
- Drug abuse is a growing problem - over 50% have experimented with drugs. Teen Challenge, Betel-Spain as well as TEAM and ECM have ministries rehabilitating and discipling addicts.
- Student work is still in a pioneer stage. GBUP(IFES) has a ministry in eight universities and some high schools. Cru (Agape) and Navigators also have ministries on several campuses.
- SU and CEF have ministries among school children.
- Sports are a useful form of outreach. Agape (Athletes in Action) and YWAM (Athletes for Christ) both minister in this way.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.